That his very flesh and blood would breach the privacy of one of America’s most famous reclusive celebrities to write about Life With Father may be newsworthy. But there’s no pleasure to be had from the taboo Margaret Salinger breaks in Dream Catcher: A Memoir.
What Peggy Salinger has produced is no book, no memoir as we know the durably popular form. Rather, it’s a wail, a shriek, a pool of blood collected from the life threatening, still fresh wounds of a mangled creature. ”Dream Catcher” is terrible, and I mean that in multiple senses of the word.
Salinger, unskilled at her chosen project and unsure about her own voice, skitters and thuds from topic to topic. One moment she sounds like a dogged graduate student (she studied history and law and attended Harvard Divinity School), earnestly positing a theory about her father’s ambivalence toward Jews and Jewishness and conducting a textual analysis of JDS’s most famous work, ”The Catcher in the Rye.” The next she’s fluttering like a 19th-century lady diarist: ”Oh, what a breath of fresh air a good library is! I know, musty is the usual adjective that is attached to libraries, but not for me.”
The author’s enumeration of her miseries — bulimia, molestation by a babysitter, diagnosis as a ”borderline,” crack-up, abortion, hallucinations, suicide attempt, and chronic fatigue syndrome — is matched only by her many mentions of her desire to be healed as best she can be, considering she grew up in a home where ”most of my father’s health regimens, such as drinking urine or sitting in an orgone box, he practiced alone.”
Therapy has helped her — her lumpy prose is draped over wooden tent poles of psychoanalytic insight — and so, she says, have her husband and son. If ”Dream Catcher” helps her too, by disrupting the family cycle of ”creating beautiful things and hiding them or destroying them with the same hand,” then maybe this awful display is worthwhile.
The robes of sainthood have fallen from J.D. Salinger’s lanky, 81-year-old frame; no matter how adamantly reclusive he remains in Cornish, N.H. (accompanied by his third wife, a nurse some 50 years his junior), the word is out that the author of ”Franny and Zooey” is just another one of those ”goddam” geniuses unfit for marriage and parenthood. Let’s hope that by taking off her own wraps and parading her scars, Margaret Salinger at least feels fit for regular, nongenius life.